Is It Editing, Or Censoring?

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlJvMU-5NyA[/tube]

Just taking another quick detour to address an issue that’s been on my mind for some time, and has recently been heightened by the release of A Place With No Name.

When the video premiered, I watched with much excitement and anticipation, as did thousands of MJ fans across the globe. My initial impression was that it was lovely; certainly quite beautifully filmed and the integration of the In The Closet footage is cleverly edited into the storyline of the couple. It is definitely several notches above the Love Never Felt So Good video in quality and ambition, as well as a loving homage to one of Michael’s sexiest yet most underrated videos.  However, I was so caught up in paying attention to the visuals that I failed to notice something glaringly obvious about the lyrics: An entire portion of the bridge is missing!

The lines in question are the ones that follow right after “This place is filled with love and happiness/Why in the world would I wanna leave.” In the complete version as it is sung in the demo and on both track versions of Xscape, the verse goes on to state:

So then I went in my pocket

Took my wallet on out

With my pictures of my family and girl

This is the place you choose to be with me

When you thought you could be

In another world

Recently, a single edit surfaced that contained the same omission. I don’t know if it was the “official” single edit, but now there is a “single edit” version that has the full track intact and the “edited” one seems to have disappeared.

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2egI1aOqBU[/tube]

It is still a bit disturbing, however, that such a glaring omission has been made to a video that is now going to be seen by millions.

Why this matters is because it is an omission that ever so subtley changes the entire meaning of the song. While it’s not unsual for such edits to sometimes be made in the interest of time, that excuse can’t really be applied here. Radio and single edits will occasionally lop off pieces of an instrumental section, or fade out the final few seconds of a track, to shave off a few minutes of time, but rarely are entire lines and verses cut from the song. I can think of a few exceptions where this was done, going back to some songs I remember from my youth where, upon finally hearing the full album version of a song, I would go, “Whoa, there was a whole other verse in there I never heard before!” But in all cases, those were either exceedingly long tracks or cases where some verse had been censored due to controversial lyrics. These days, for example, the lines from Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing that refer to “the little f****t” are often edited out when it is played on classic radio stations.

Neither justification seems to really apply here. The length of A Place With No Name, even with the full bridge intact, is only about 4:36, well within the average length of most singles released today. The omitted line adds, at best, an additional thirty seconds or so to the song, and I find it hard to justify that this additional thirty seconds or so would be a “make or break” as far as length.

Nor is there any other obviously justifiable reason for omitting the lyric, except that for whatever reason, it seems someone wanted to “tweak” the song’s dark twist.

The omitted line is crucual to the overall meaning of the song because, just as with many of Michael’s songs about giving in to the temptations of lust, it becomes a morality tale about the consequences of one’s actions. The narrator is obviously enjoying being taken to places he’s never been, but the photos in the wallet are a jarring reminder of his reality. It is not clear in the end what his ultimate decision is, or where his loyalties will lie, but the fact that he must ponder the wages of that decision is ultimately the crux of the entire song. Just as with Billie Jean, Dirty Diana, Dangerous, Blood on the Dancefloor and so many others, Michael is taking us deep into the male psyche and taking some hard hits at what transpires when light and darkness collide.

By eliminating this line, it takes away the “moral consequence” element of the song and reduces it to merely a kind of sexy romp in the hay. The emphasis here is on the light and the joy of that utopia, but that is only part of the picture as that utopic vision eventually becomes tainted for the narrator.

My guess is that they wanted to keep the message here upbeat and positive. Maybe it became problematic trying to figure out how to work that element of the song into the video’s concept. But the bottom line is: They should have found a way. To do any less is a disservice to the artist and the artist’s intent. In The Closet-the video that served as the inspiration here-was likewise a video that juxtaposed a very upbeat and erotic visual storyline, while maintaining the dark edge of the lyrics (it is a tug-of-war battle between the power of the seductress and the male who says he will only give in if she agrees to keep their love a secret).

But I have noticed this seems to be an ongoing trend with some of Michael’s posthumously released work. The emphasis is on the positive, and a lot of the darker aspects are either being censored out or presented in a misleading way. In the case of A Place With No Name, it seems they wanted to keep it upbeat, without introducing the darker element. But really, why? Billie Jean wasn’t exactly a cheery video, either, but it made history.

And another recent example:  The bridge to the title track, Xscape, is clearly referencing either death or the desire to die in order to “get away.”

What Michael clearly states in the bridge is:

When I go (or when I’m gone)

This problem world won’t bother me

(Some lyric sites quote the line as “When I go” but “When I’m gone” seems more logical, as it is a true rhyme with “alone,” the last word of the verse that the backup chorus sings).

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G6j4oe8g70[/tube]

Either way, the intended meaning of the passage is quite clear. In fact, it was made so very clear that when the track first leaked back in 2003, fans were concerned because they thought Michael might be contemplating suicide.

The line does appear intact on the track, but here is something interesting to note: In the album liner notes, the lyric to this bridge is printed thus:

Xscape, where did I go

This problem world won’t bother me

Is that a printing error, or a genuine attempt to mislead the lyrics?

The bridge as Michael sings it is a clear reference to the idea of death as the ultimate escape. But the misprint in the liner notes (whether intentional or not!) makes it sound like he’s just referring to slipping away on a vacation! (Or worse yet, feeding into the death hoax theory).

Clearly, Michael isn’t asking “Where did I go?” He’s saying “When I’m gone” as in “When I’m dead.”

By watering this down, whether purposely or unintentionally, it alters the meaning of the song to a simple tale of needing to get away from all the pressures. Well, the song isabout that, but it is very misleading if someone is purposely trying to paint it as if he’s not hinting that death might be the only way this will ultimately be possible for him.

I have to wonder if someone didn’t simply make the decision that the line was too dark, or might incite too much controversy, and so chose to alter it? Thankfully, the bridge is intact on the album, but what happens if it’s ever released as a single or video? Are they going to cut that out, too?

As subtle as all of this may be, the fact that it’s happening at all is somewhat disturbing. Such practices do nothing to assure those who are already against the idea of releasing Michael’s music posthumously on principle.

I am certainly not opposed to the new music being released, but I want to hear it exactly as Michael wrote it and sang it. Tweaking his lines, editing them out, or misprinting them in the liner note booklet (especially if done purposely to misrepresent) is not acceptable to me. I can understand when it’s done for consideration of length, such as when his songs must be abridged for things like the Cirque du Soleil shows or TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance. But even then, great care is usually taken that all of the song’s important elements are maintained; nothing that would actually alter the song’s integrity by changing its meaning.

Again, the omission of  these lines in  A Place With No Name makes no sense from an editing standpoint, and there seems to be no logical reason for it.

I love the video and have no complaints with it otherwise but as someone who has great respect for Michael’s art, this does trouble me a great deal and it bothers me that a lot of people will now only hear this “watered down” version of the song. Hopefully, the radio and single edits are indications that this omission only applies to the video but it is still kind of disappointing.

On a lighter note, there may indeed be some printing errors in the Xscape booklet. I am at least 100% certain that Michael is saying “She started likin’ me/kissing me and huggin me.” But the lyric printed in the booklet states: “She started lickin’ me.”

Lol. I think we can safely say that the reference to “huggin’ and kissin me” was as graphic as Michael intended to go. The rest was supposed to be left to our imagination!

19 thoughts on “Is It Editing, Or Censoring?”

  1. “Lol. I think we can safely say that the reference to “huggin’ and kissin me” was as graphic as Michael intended to go. The rest was supposed to be left to our imagination!”

    Raven I know this isn’t the most intelligent response to your very thought provoking post . I have just watched the video.. isn’t it interesting that the two dancers are being quite overtly “sexual” yet the interspersed scenes of Michael are far more “sexy” ..for want of a better word. Michael just exuded sensuality without really trying and even in this context was in a league of his own !!

    1. Very good questions, Raven. And, MagUK, you are absolutely correct about Michael although I don’t see the couple as over-the-top sexual. There is a playful element to their association, as well.

  2. I am not an absolute song purist although I do like to have access to the original and altered version.
    However, I do think it is the wrong to make changes that alter the meaning of the song and I think your thought that it keeps it “lighter” could very well be the reason.
    But why?
    Thought provoking post. I don’t think I would have noticed that because I do not often read the lyrics…unless I just can’t understand what he is singing.
    I agree with MagUK that the ITC snippets of MJ were sexier than the couple.

  3. It’s not the first or the second time did this. “Best of Joy” album version had a whole verse omitted. “Hollywood Tonight” had “she’s only 15” line taken out and a whole bridge re-written which also changed the meaning of the song from a dark one to a lighter, happy-end one. “Loving You,” Timbaland version, had “instead” replaced with “in bed”. They do whatever they see fit. And in case of Xscape album, this kind of omission is really a minor issue compared to re-writing the music to the songs. They are not even MJ songs anymore, they are other artists’ songs that borrow on MJ lyrics. So who cares if the lyrics is abridged? There is nothing in those promoted songs that is true to Michael’s vision.

    By the way, the lyrics in “Xscape” are
    “When I go,
    This problem world won’t bother me no more”
    There is no “alone” there.

    1. I believe I hear the word “alone” in the background harmony vocals (it is not the part that MJ sings) but I may need to listen again.
      It is hard to decipher some of it just based on what my ear hears.

      Either way, “When I go” or “When I’m gone” is essentially saying the same thing, which is back to my point. It is a far cry from “Where I go.”

      That is a good point about the Hollywood lyric. I didn’t think to include that example (I was in a bit of a rush when I did the post this morning) but I wish now I had. It’s an even better example than the misprinted Xscape lyrics.

      I don’t have that much of an issue, really, with the reworked songs on Xscape. I thought that overall the new productions were very faithful to the original demo versions. They took the most liberties with A Place With No Name’s arrangement, and I didn’t like it at first but the Stargate version eventually grew on me. It was “different,” for sure, but catchy in its own way. I liked the rest of the tracks except that I don’t understand what the hell those quacking duck noises are in Chicago.

      I really like the energy of Xscape although Michael’s original demo version had some interesting things going on that they took out. One cool thing about the demo is that you can clearly hear what appears to be the sound of a spaceship hovering (presumably to whisk Michael away). It was kind of a neat effect, and I know Michael would have wanted his spaceship in the final version. I also believe he would have wanted to retain the prison break sequence at the beginning.

    2. Morinen, I listened again to the original demo version. I am still not sure I am hearing it 100% correctly, but it still seems as though, if you listen carefully, the BG vocals are layering on an addendum/response line to the ones Michael sings, which sounds like “cause the world will leave me alone.” I think it is clearer on the original demo version than the produced one.

      I could be wrong, but that’s what I’m hearing.

    3. I never trust album liner notes. Even when Michael was alive, they still had mistakes.

      In Best of Joy, it could be that that verse was not recorded. We’ll never know for sure. There were 5 different handwritten lyrics by Michael (we only know take 1 and 5 from different photographs), with take 1 starting the same way as the album version. Take 5 starts with the bridge and has the extra verse you mentioned.

      In Loving You, the lyric was likely edited because in the original, that part is out of tune and it was probably harder to tune it back without making it obvious. Timbaland replaced it with the last build up which sounds less out of tune (which he pitched down a semitone as there is no key change) . The contemporized version has a lot of vocal processing because there are parts where Michael sings out of tune.

      I never thought Xscape was about death or suicide – it’s about escaping from the paparazzi. This song has constantly fuelled the death hoax beLIEvers who believe it’s about Jackson’s desire to start a new life by faking his death.

      As for APWNN, I think the lyrics were cut out because the video is about the couple. The cut-out portion of the bridge would suggest the man already has a lover, and I don’t think that would fit into this video very well.

      1. Yes, that is an important thing to keep in mind with liner notes. There can be mistakes. Also, as you say, they may be looking at 2-3 different versions of the lyrics.

        Re Xscape: I don’t believe the entire song is about death/suicide. It’s a song about “getting away” but I believe the bridge is referencing death. It is only a very small part of the song, but a very crucial part for me. Granted, by saying “When I go” or “When I’m gone” he could simply be referring to when he leaves his old life behind to start his new one. Now that he IS dead, of course, it becomes much more romantically attractive to interpret the line as a reference to death. However, I tend to believe that it is a reference to death because he says, “This problem world won’t bother me” which seems to imply that it won’t bother him because he is no longer a part of it (whereas if he has simply started a new life, he is still on earth and therefore hasn’t completely escaped “this problem world”). The bridge was obviously intended to make the song transcend to another level. There is the surface escapism, or terrestrial escapism, if you will-the idea of simply ditching stardom and pressure and paparazzi-and he then transcends to escape on the spiritual, extraterrestrial level-leaving ALL the cares of the earth behind (and indeed, the spacecraft sound effect in the original version highlights this idea). He was probably playing on two levels, as Michael often did in his songs and short films. There was the “serious” meaning (when I die and my spirit goes elsewhere, this problem world won’t bother me) and then the playful enactment of it (instead of actually dying, he boards a spaceship that carries him away). Michael often had that element of playfulness, even when his topics were very serious.

        I like the original and produced versions of Xscape equally (the newly produced one has a lot of energy and pulsating drive, especially with the addition of the horns) but, obviously, the demo version is closer to Michael’s actual concept of the song.

        You are probably right about APWNN but, again, that goes right back to my original argument-if they cut it out because it didn’t fit the video “they” wanted to make of the song, then that in my estimation is censorship. It is purposely tweaking the song to suit someone else’s vision. I don’t wish to overly complain-I think it is a beautiful video and obviously a lot of thought went into its execution. But the lines in question should have stayed in. I think this could have been managed while still retaining the concept they had. It does change the song, but a viewing audience is going to be focused more on the images than the lyrics. There is no rule that says music videos have to be a literal representation of the lyrics-in fact, often they are not.

  4. I do not understand why an artists work should be modified to fit a format – radio/tv friendlyness, cd format, commerce or even interpretation. Maybe farfetched, but could it be the video turned out too happy and playful for the lyrics and adjusting the lyrics was easier done than making another video?.
    Not only the lyrics were tampered with, the song got a different feel with the ‘contemporizing’ of Michaels original instrumentation and replacing it for Stargards.
    But I gues that is what ‘remixing’ is all about.

    I had expected a more groundbreaking video because the lyrics combined with the footage of Michael in the dessert offer endless possibilites.
    Its ok and more entertaining than all the tributes we ve seen so far, but with a little more imagination it could have done more justice to the song.
    And if I want to see itc footage I watch the itc video and the making of itc.

  5. I didn’t realize this, but yeah, you are right and now I’m pissed. Hollywood Tonight all over again. It’s so incredibly disrespectful that they keep trying to change the meaning of Michael’s songs by always trying to make it more light weight by omitting certain parts.

  6. Some weeks ago I read a review by some New Yorker, and he interpreted part of the song “she showed me places I’ve never seen and things I’ve never done really looking like a lot of fun” as purely sexually. I did not like that because to me it could be all and general things, and I did not even think of it like that. When now seeing the “vid” I thought the interpretation was purely sexual. I am 100% sure that Michael did not mean it to be like that. The song is referring to general happiness. I missed some beautiful pictures or shots from flowers – threes – landscapes – happy smiling people and children, animals. Yet none of it was in it. And I did not notice before you mentioned it Raven, about the omitting of the “pictures of his family” part. This adds to narrowing the song to fodder for the general public that has no interest in the real value of Michael’s songs as moral teachings. They do not even “get ” it. I am really disappointed. How sexy the dancers maybe be in the eyes of others, Michael is much more subtle sensual. Nobody else touched me in their dancing, ever in any form, except for Michael. It is the most graceful person in the world.
    About the Xscape : I am 100% convinced it has nothing to do with suicide. Michael expressed before he wanted to disappear. The very first lines (intro) “He’s gone”, “Where I go” (that is what I hear), “You want me, come and get me” extro…. all prove that. He just has enough of this “crazy, false, lying” media world, and it’s customers (he general public that sustain this industry).
    Thank you for the thoughtful article Raven.

    1. “Some weeks ago I read a review by some New Yorker, and he interpreted part of the song “she showed me places I’ve never seen and things I’ve never done really looking like a lot of fun” as purely sexually. I did not like that because to me it could be all and general things, and I did not even think of it like that. When now seeing the “vid” I thought the interpretation was purely sexual. I am 100% sure that Michael did not mean it to be like that.”

      I agree. Journalists rarely get Michael.

  7. As for APWNN, I think the lyrics were cut out because the video is about the couple. The cut-out portion of the bridge would suggest the man already has a lover, and I don’t think that would fit into this video very well.

    I agree. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one. It is certainly the most logical one.

    1. I don’t think it’s right to cut out important parts of Michael’s songs just to make them fit with a video that is someone else’s concept. It should be the other way around: the effort should be to stay as close to Michael’s message and own concept as possible. Why is it so hard to respect him as an artist? Michael’s message with this song was not sexy dancers dancing in a desert. That’s completely missing the point and by the way they cut out the “punchline” it even seems to be a deliberate dumbing down of his songs (they did the same with Hollywood Tonight). Why is it so horrible for Sony that Michael wants to make people think a little bit? Why does everything have to be turned into a shallow dance song?

  8. I agreed with FYI 21 that it was the REASON the verse was cut out.
    That first paragraph was what they had posted.
    I did not comment on whether or not it was right or wrong but since you brought it up; I think it changed the meaning of the song so it should have been left in.
    The video should have been changed to fit the song and then it would have expressed what he wanted the song to mean.

    1. The last lines are a bit ambiguous because, like I said, his ultimate decision is still unclear. But what is apparent is that the union does turn sexual (she started likin me/kissin me and huggin me/she didn’t really really want me to leave”)and he struggles with the decision (he looks at the family photos in his wallet). At that point, the “beautiful place” isn’t quite the utopia he thought it was. It’s been tainted by guilt, and possibly spoiled by the introduction of this impure element. Those last lines, as brief as they are, are no doubt the most important of the entire song. However (and we have had this discussion here before about APWNN) it’s not clear what is meant by “this is the place you thought you could be with me/when you could be in another world.” There has been no second person “you” addressed in the song up to that point, and the mysterious woman is referred to as “she.” So who is “you?” Is it the woman? The girl from the photo in the wallet? The listener? I imagine most aren’t over analyzing it that much, but it is a nagging question for me because…well, I like to interpret things, what can I say, and deep song lyrics are always interesting to me.

      Of course, the song is actually a Dr. Freeze composition, so we have to keep in mind that when we are complaining about Michael’s “vision” being tampered with, it may be worth noting that the song was never completely “his” vision in the first place. However, they worked on this song together as a collaboration for many years, and Dr. Freeze has said that Michael continued tweaking it for several more years beyond that. There are some lyrics in the song that I am convinced are probably Michael’s additions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that bridge is among them.

  9. ‘and I did not even think of it like that. When now seeing the “vid” I thought the interpretation was purely sexual. I am 100% sure that Michael did not mean it to be like that.”

    I agree. Journalists rarely get Michael.”

    This one certainly didn’t. This was his personal interpretation or else he was in a hurry or too lazy to really look at the video before he wrote his review.

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